West Allegheny upends No. 1 Thomas Jefferson
With a Heinz Field locker room his background, West Allegheny's Zech Medved promised as a freshman that someday he'd help bring the Indians to that stadium again.
Three years later, they're going back.
“I told my coach that there would be one more time that we get to Heinz Field,” said Medved, who had two sacks, forced a fumble and caught a 56-yard touchdown Friday night for No. 4 West Allegheny in a 24-7 upset victory over No. 1 Thomas Jefferson at Bethel Park Stadium. “To make that true is amazing.”
And, as Medved explained, he had plenty of help.
Nick Halbedl recovered a fumble and scored two short rushing touchdowns to build a 14-point halftime lead that the Indians protected with their powerful yet unorthodox direct-snap running game. West Allegheny rushed for 122 yards on 47 carries and led time of possession by nearly a two-to-one margin (30:57 to 17:03).
“We set it as our goal to put them down and see how they responded,” Medved said.
Joe Carroll completed 11 of 33 passes for 160 yards for Thomas Jefferson (11-1), including a 47-yard touchdown pass to Zach Schademan. But the senior quarterback fumbled twice and threw second-half interceptions to the Indians' Armand Dellovade and Lewis Walls. Jordan Divin sacked Carroll twice.
West Allegheny (11-1) also recovered a muffed punt, one of four TJ turnovers.
“You always want to play your best, and I don't think we did,” Thomas Jefferson coach Bill Cherpak said. “When you have four turnovers in a game like this, you're losing.”
Thomas Jefferson's hopes ended with 5:32 left in the fourth when they threw incomplete on four consecutive plays, including a fourth-and-10 at their own 29. The Jaguars were the highest-scoring team in Class AAA this season, yet never led against West Allegheny.
“We wanted to get up early and kind of get them chasing,” Cherpak said, “but we couldn't get that break.”
With a two-touchdown lead, West Allegheny allowed its ground game to consume the second-half clock.
Dellovade led West Allegheny with 60 yards on 20 carries, and Chayse Dillon added 56 yards on 16 carries. Halbedl added 16 yards and a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs.
When West Allegheny last reached Heinz Field in 2009, it also beat Thomas Jefferson in the semifinals. The Indians beat Hopewell in the championship that year.
“Every year, every team has its own personality,” said West Allegheny coach Bob Palko, who has won five WPIAL titles.
West Allegheny had a short field for its first touchdown drive when Carroll, sacked from behind by Medved, fumbled on Thomas Jefferson's second play. Halbedl recovered the fumble 8 yards from the end zone. From there, the Indians needed three short runs to take a 7-0 lead, ending with a 1-yard touchdown by Halbedl with just 1:58 gone.
A 57-yard touchdown catch by Schademan tied the score in the second quarter, when the senior outran the coverage. It was the 21st time this season that Schademan and Carroll had connected for a touchdown. Schademan, playing with an injured shoulder, had four catches for 77 yards.
But the tie was short-lived. West Allegheny sprinted ahead 62 seconds later when Medved caught a 56-yard touchdown from Andrew Koester, a sophomore who had thrown just four before Friday. The Indians led, 14-7, with 6:28 left in the second.
“They have some kids with 46 catches on the season,” Medved said. “I think we might have 46 passes as a team this whole season.”
Habedl added another 1-yard touchdown run 58 seconds before halftime, extending West Allegheny's lead to 21-7.
The third quarter was scoreless.
In the fourth, West Allegheny's Evan Pelcher added a 40-yard field goal with 2:01 left. It was the senior's fifth this season.
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.